In an article published today in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Emily Lembeck, superintendent of the 8,000-student City of Marietta school district, was quoted as observing that the system’s teacher compensation system is “archaic.” Ms. Lembeck believes that pay based on effectiveness would allow higher salaries for deserving teachers earlier in their careers.
According to the article, Ms. Lembeck may be in for some push back from a major teaching union on her pay-for-performance preference. The American Federation of Teachers is against pay for performance, arguing that other factors i.e. problems at home, interfere with a teacher’s ability to deliver education.
I, like most of you, personally know a number of teachers. While they are dedicated to teaching kids, their frustration with administrations and students floats to the top of conversations we hold with them when discussing their vocation, pay, and retirements. Teachers are correct that they do not engage their students in a vacuum. Factors at home do have an impact on a child’s demeanor and ability to absorb information while in the classroom. If a child isn’t eating well at home, it will be hard for them to concentrate and make good grades.
But can teachers hide behind this excuse when they are evaluated for next budget year’s compensation? Their push for pay based on seniority is non-economical and needs to reflect some outside the box thinking. For example, why not pay teachers their opportunity costs for being in the classroom? Given their experience and the transferability of their skills, school boards should start paying competitive rates based on where the individual teacher could go. This means that we shouldn’t expect all first year teachers to receive the same pay.
It also means we can bring some competition into the public school classroom. As teachers earn advanced degrees and rack up years of experience, they can put a little space between themselves and the other teacher down the hall.
Seniority won’t cut it. Paying a teacher because they had a good pair of ear plugs for 25 years doesn’t give schools or students competent teachers.